HMD Global announced that the re-entry of this Nokia brand in the mobile marketplace late last year, and the Nokia 6 became the first phone to be unveiled under the new agreement. This was followed with the initiation of the Nokia 5 and the Nokia 3, with the focus very much on the entry-level section. That changed in August when the Nokia 8 was unveiled at a special event in London. This device is the realisation of a long-held dream of many enthusiasts – a Nokia-branded Android smartphone with flagship-class specifications.

The Nokia 8 packs the Snapdragon 835 SoC – a chip which nearly all current-generation Android flagships are built around – and comes equipped with near-stock Android. That means there is little room for differentiation in terms of specifications or software. Instead, like most other OEMs, HMD is pinning its hopes on the camera to act as the big selling proposition because of its most expensive smartphone till date.

To that end, HMD has revived Nokia’s iconic partnership with Carl Zeiss AG – the newest that lent its title to many famous Nokia camera phones back in the day – to the front and back cameras of their Nokia 8. The phone also packs some new tricks like the ability to catch ‘bothies’ and capture spatial 360O audio thanks to technology borrowed from Nokia’s Ozo camera. Is that enough to make the Nokia 8 stand out in a crowded marketplace? Let us find out.

At first glance, there’s nothing striking about the Nokia 8, especially from the front. It has a fairly standard design, with the 5.3-inch display dominating the majority of the front, and thin, nevertheless noticeable boundaries on the left and right. Below the display is the oval home button with a built-in fingerprint scanner, flanked by the capacitive Back and Recent buttons on either side. There is an earpiece over the display, with a selfie camera to its left and a Nokia emblem at the far right. The bottom edge of this Nokia 8 includes the Type-C USB 3.1 Gen. 1 port, a mic, and the mono speaker, while the 3.5mm audio interface is at the top. The SIM/ microSD tray is about the left, along with the volume controls and power/ aftermath button will be on the rightside.

Flip the phone over and things begin to get a bit more interesting. The top third gets the dual camera module and also dual-LED flash lined up in the centre, with ZEISS branding separating them. All this is placed in a little ‘island’ of glass surrounded by an oval-shaped metallic ring which gives the Nokia 8 a tiny camera bulge at the back. The other Nokia logo adorns the middle of the phone’s back, and there’s a fair quantity of regulatory text towards the bottom, including the ‘Made in India’ tag on the review unit.

Nokia 8 in Tempered Blue (left) and metal matte finishes.

The Nokia 8 body is created from 6000-series aluminium, as it comes in glossy Polished Copper and Blue finishes, as well as matte Tempered Blue and Steel options. We have to test both the matte finishes for protracted periods of time for our review and found the general texture and finish to be a top notch above other devices in this price segment. We criticised the OnePlus 5 because of its uninspiring design in our review, and today, purely in terms of design, it seems incredibly dated in comparison to the Nokia 8.

The Nokia 8 includes a 5.3-inch QHD IPS LCD screen with a resolution of 1440×2560 pixels that might lack the appeal of an ‘edge to edge’ display, but holds up against the best in the business in which it counts. The screen boasts of accurate colour reproduction and it can become very bright when desired, which means using the phone under direct sunlight wasn’t a issue.

In the Nokia 8 retail box, you receive a 12.5W charger, a USB Type-A to Type-C cable, 3.5millimeter earphones, a SIM eject tool, and the consumer guide.

It is backed by 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, and also a 3090mAh battery, non-removable, of course. India gets the dual-SIM variant of this Nokia 8, however you will have to select between a Nano-SIM and a microSD card to the second slot. 4G support with VoLTE is available on both SIMs, but only one can be using 4G at any given time.

Nokia 8 has a 5.3-inch QHD IPS LCD with Gorilla Glass 5 to get protection.

In our experience, phone quality was was exceptional and 4G connectivity was great even in places where other phones generally struggle. The mono speaker can get sufficiently loud for calls as well as watching videos, along with the sound doesn’t split even at maximum volume. However, the placement at the bottom right means you might easily end up covering it while watching a video or playing a match. The Nokia 8 is IP54-rated, which means it’s not waterproof, though you do get protection against water sprays.

The lack of software bloat combined with the beefy hardware intended that day to day performance during our review period was a breeze. Multi-tasking wasn’t a problem either, which just goes to prove that you don’t want 6GB or 8GB of RAM to earn a decent phone. The phone did not get warm even with prolonged sessions of Breakneck and Asphalt 8, and both matches ran without any noticeable issues. In terms of benchmarks, the Nokia 8 was up there with other Snapdragon 835 powered phones.

As we mentioned at launching, the Nokia 8 has been engineered with an elaborate heat control solution: a aluminum pipe runs from the top right corner of this device to the lower left, and is filled with liquid which evaporates in the middle and condenses when it is carried to the edges, in a continuous cycle that carries heat away from your main components. There’s also a graphite coating that transports the heat to the aluminium unibody uniformly, using a larger surface area to dissipate it to the air.

The Nokia 8 ships with Android 7.1.1 from this box, which means you get features like App Shortcuts (the ability to initiate actions in programs by long-pressing their icons) and Jump to Camera, the ability to launch the camera program from anyplace (including the lock display) from double-tapping the power/ lock button. HMD Global has promised updates to Android Oreo and even to the next year’s Android N releasefor the Nokia 8 and other smartphones in its existing lineup.

Android 7.1.1’s App Shortcuts about the Nokia 8 (left). The phone also comes with a few motion-triggered shortcuts.

You also receive the Glance screen attribute, that we saw on Lumia phones back in the day. Your Nokia 8 can display badges for missed calls and unread emails and messages, as well as alarms and calendar appointments on the lock screen. It’s set to timeout one minute after your phone was set down, however you can change this value to up to 20 minutes to mimic an ‘always-on’ display. There are a couple of motion-triggered shortcuts as well, though both options are switched off by default. It is possible to turn on your Nokia 8 to reject a call, or have it muted on pickup, if you opt to do so.

In our HD video battery loop evaluation, the Nokia 8 lasted nearly twelve and a half hours, which is fairly impressive. In regard to real-world performance, we didn’t find ourselves reaching for the charger before the close of the day even if our phone usage was heavier than normal. If your experience varies, the bundled 12.5W charger can take the Nokia 8 from an empty tank to a 45 percent charge in thirty minutes, and we also noticed it going from 50 percent to 66 percent in just 15 minutes.

Nokia 8 cameras

The Nokia 8 has a double rear camera set up: a 13-megapixel colour sensor with optical image stabilisation, and a monochrome sensor of the identical resolution.

How it works is pretty simple: every time you shoot a photo, two shots are recorded – one by the colour sensor and the other by the monochrome sensor – and combined to give you a resulting color image. The extra information available from the monochrome sensor helps improve the overall contrast and richness of each framework – at least that is the idea in concept.

We mentioned earlier that the Nokia 8 runs near-stock Android, and it’s the Camera program that is largely responsible for this “near” prefix. You’ll see a ton of customisations here, the majority of these to accommodate the underlying camera hardware. The program is defined to capture still photos in the ‘Twin’ mode by default, however you can change that to just ‘Colour’ or ‘Mono’ if you so desire. We recommend leaving it in the default style, unless you are trying to shoot black and white shots, obviously, in which case go with the latter.

Though the camera is backed by stage detection auto-focus (PDAF) and an IR range finder, in our experience, the Nokia 8 took a bit too much time to lock focus, which got annoying very quickly. The resulting pictures, nevertheless, were good, with the right items in focus and a good amount of detail in addition to accurate color reproduction, provided that there was plenty of light around us.

Tap to view full-sized Nokia 8 camera samples

In low light conditions, however, the performance of this Nokia 8 suffered, which wasn’t just a surprise given the f/2.0 aperture on both cameras. Pictures we shot didn’t possess a great deal of noise, but they lacked the details that today’s leading smartphone cameras could capture, though, admittedly, most of them are priced higher than the Nokia 8. The rear flash does a good job of lighting up scenes, though the front-facing display flash may be a bit overpowering.

Speaking of which, the Nokia 8 can record 720p, 1080p, or 4K video using both front and rear cameras, even though you’re limited to 30 frames per second. The quality of videos is adequate, although the microphones seem to do a excellent job of picking up sounds, we couldn’t discern the difference, if any, created by the Ozo surround audio. You might also record slow-motion and time-lapse videos.

The app also includes Live Bokeh and Panorama modes, and the results of both are pretty good. Additionally you get Beautify mode for both the front and back cameras, finish with varying intensity levels of this ‘beautification’, which is designed to remove ‘blemishes’ from your face – embracing your normal self is clearly so 2014.

The camera program on the Nokia 8 has been customised to accomodate the underlying hardware.

The solution is usually the simple fact that you’re in a manner that doesn’t support the option you’re looking for. Switching from Live Bokeh to routine Photos mode, for instance, will fix the issue in this scenario. The icon at the bottom indicating the current manner could have been bigger, or having a carousel showing all available modes at any given time like the iPhone and a number of other phones would perhaps have made it easier to understand what is currently selected.

This brings us to the Double Sight camera, or to use the marketing term, ‘bothie’ mode. You may take photos and record video with the Nokia 8 where scenes from both the front and the back camera will be visible at the same time. The unfortunate marketing name aside, this could be a nice way to, say, record your personal reactions as soon as your kid is doing something adorable. Resulting images are 16:9, instead of 4:3 when capturing stills using a single camera on the Nokia 8 by default (this may also be altered to 16:9 from Settings within the Camera app, if you need).

We have seen third-party apps along with additional Android phones do this before, but what HMD is actually pushing here is your ability to livestream bothie (and indeed ‘regular’) videos to Facebook and YouTube right from within the camera program. The company says it worked closely with Qualcomm to be the first to push this feature out, but you can expect it to be available on additional smartphones shortly.

We could imagine this attribute being useful when you’re at, say, a concert, or if you’re a reporter covering a live event, when you want to catch both sides of the story. The streaming feature worked as advertised, though we should notice that you might have to verify your YouTube accounts and enable live streaming manually to stream to Google’s platform. Extended bothie streaming sessions may warm up the back of the phone considerably, which is a sign that the heat control solution we described earlier is doing its own job.

Harness to view full-sized Nokia 8 bothie sample

Quality of photos and videos taken in bothie mode is adequate, but not as good because you’re able to capture when using the individual cameras normally. Note that there is no way to utilize the bothie mode outside of the stock Camera app right now.

Verdict
Nokia made its name selling no-nonsense phones that were built to last, and while the ownership of the mobile manufacturer might have changed hands, the Nokia 8 is a smartphone that could have been a worthy addition to the lineup of the Finnish company even in its heyday. It offers good build quality, a fantastic display, excellent performance with stock Android, the promise of routine updates, first-class battery life, and superior cameras with a few awesome tricks. On the flip-side, some might find the design boring, it isn’t fully watertight like many competitors are, and the low-light camera performance could have been better.

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36,999, the Nokia 8 extends up against the likes of this OnePlus 5 (Review), and general, we found it to be the greater of the two, despite the latter sporting better specifications on paper. If you are on a tighter budget, you could also consider that the Honor 8 Pro (Review), which has a similar dual-camera setup and is a solid all-round performer as well.

Expectedly, the overall experience with the Nokia 8 isn’t as polished as it is with a few of the more expensive Android smartphones such as the HTC U11 (Review) and Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and Note 8flagships, but it’s safe to state that if a smartphone like this had shipped from the Nokia secure a few years ago, the Finnish company might never have had to step back from the mobile business. In terms of taking on the likes of Samsung and Apple at their own game, there is the rumoured Nokia 9 to look forward to.

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